CRITICAL_PROCESS_DIED is one of the few Windows BSODs (Blue Screens of Death) that anyone can provoke at will. If you kill the process named svchost.exe in Windows 10 (right-click in Task Manager, and pick “End process tree” from the pop-up menu), it will immediately cause the machine to crash with this very error code. Among other things, that means Windows won’t run unless the generic system process that hooks Windows services up with dynamic link libraries (DLLs) is operating. Because this is a fundamental part of how the Windows OS operates, the OS won’t work unless one (usually more) instance of this service is running (at least one for each DLL in use, in fact).
In essence CRITICAL_PROCESS_DIED signals that some process necessary to Windows proper operation has ended abruptly and unexpectedly (to the OS, anyway). I don’t recommend that users try killing svchost.exe unless they’ve saved their work, closed all open applications, and are ready for their PC to restart after the BSOD appears and the post-crash dump files are saved.
Most Common Causes for CRITICAL_PROCESS_DIED Error
When this error occurs, numerous potential causes are worth investigating. As with most BSODs, your clearest guide to further such investigation is to consider what changed on your PC recently. Statistically, the most frequent cause of this particular stop code is a rogue update, followed by system file corruption that causes the executable for some critical system process (of which svchost.exe is a great example) to die. The list of potential causes includes:
- Rogue update: this is a term that describes a (usually recent) Windows update such as a Cumulative Update, a security update, or some other update, that causes unwanted side effects on some PCs. If you can identify the update involved – there will usually be helpful notes in the update release notes from Microsoft. To that end, please check the update’s Knowledge Base number and read what you can find from Microsoft about that string.
Thus, for example, you could use Google to find useful information for KB5003173 with the string: “site:Microsoft.com KB5003173” where this Microsoft Support note is your primary focus for follow-up. It includes a section heading that reads “Known issues in this update” where you’ll find information about known issues and potential or actual resolutions or workarounds. Third-party sources are also sometimes of interest, because they may document fixes or workarounds that Microsoft has not yet vetted and published.
To see what updates you've installed recently, go to the old Windows control panel, launch Programs and Features and click “View installed updates,” which shows you a list of all updates in order of install. If you need to uninstall one, right click it and select "uninstall."
If that doesn’t work, you can boot from the Windows Recovery environment and use the DISM command to uninstall an offline image at the command line. That’s a fairly complex operation that’s documented in Option 6 of Shawn Brink’s excellent TenForums tutorial Uninstall Windows Update in Windows 10. It is also the best known method for removing a rogue Windows 10 update.
- Corrupt system files: These are best addressed using the DISM /Online /Cleanup-Image /CheckHealth command (run at an administrative command prompt or in an administrative PowerShell session). If this command finds anything to report, run DISM /Online /Cleanup-Image /RestoreHealth to clean things up. Next, run the system file checker until it reports nothing found or fixed (this sometimes takes 2 or 3 iterations): SFC /SCANNOW. If it works, this will often fix the IRQL error as well.
- Incompatible device drivers: If you’ve recently updated a driver, you should probably use the “Roll Back Driver” option on that device’s Driver tab in Device Manager. If the tab is greyed out, you may have to uninstall the current driver and install the previous version manually.
Try a Clean Boot to Resolve CRITICAL_PROCESS_DIED Errors
If you still can’t figure out what is causing your CRITICAL_PROCESS_DIED errors, a Windows 10 clean boot should be your next step. A clean boot starts Windows 10 with the barest minimum set of drivers and startup programs. It seeks to eliminate possible causes of trouble that have been added to the startup environment over time. See our article on how to perform a clean boot in Windows 10 for instructions.
Make Use of Recent Reporting to Solve CRITICAL_PROCESS_DIED Errors
If you visit TenForums.com, BleepingComputer.com, Answers.Microsoft.com or the Tom’s Hardware Forums and search for the CRTICIAL_PROCESS_DIED error string you will see how often the error has been reported lately.
You will also get some excellent insight on how others have approached diagnosis of the underlying cause, and what fixes they’ve applied. It’s especially helpful to read through fixes that claim success because these might work for you, too. On the other hand, unsuccessful fixes can be informative, too, because they tell you which repairs to try later rather than sooner (or not at all).